Kate has eyes like a hawk, and when she spots the first slate gray nail in the bed of slate gray gravel, we turn around to find the rest.
“I’d rather look now than have you get a nail in your tire,” she tells me as we start back up the lane.
Kate’s giving me the tour of her vegetable farm after my 3-hour working interview in the greenhouse, where I diligently mixed potting soil and cranked out trays of soil blocks, each of which would house dozens of vegetable seedlings in the coming days.
After I’ve sweated through all my clothes and taken a couple stretch breaks, Kate reveals that she’s been timing me.
She’s playful about it, assuring me it’s mainly for her own planning purposes. But once I knew she was timing me, I upped the ante.
I’m starting to understand that working on the farm will not be a summer of twirling in fields, leisurely munching fresh-picked veggies and chit-chatting with new friends. No no. Farm work is hard, fast work. And Kate reiterates this to me in different ways throughout the morning.
The soil blocks need to be made well if the seeds are to germinate. They also needed to be made quickly. People start coming for their CSAs in a few weeks, and they might expect food in those CSAs, after all.
Kate bears the unique mental load of knowing every in and out of the farm, and while I’m reveling in the earthy experience of my “Real Iowan Job” and soaking in the glory of the sweaty greenhouse on a cold March morning, Kate is anticipating the domino effect that could happen if we get even one day (or one hour) behind.
There is technique and efficiency for every task, and Kate collectedly teaches me, dishing out patience, kindness, and compassion in tandem with high standards and expectations, often with her two-year-old miraculously in tow.
The more I work and see, the more I understand that every piece of feedback Kate gives me is a trailhead that, if followed, leads to the same destination without fail.
Even the smallest tasks on the farm go back to the collective aim: feeding people.
A few days into my farm work I start to learn the dance between quality and speed. Some parts of each task are rigorous and quick, while others are careful and slow.
We rake hay from a field of garlic, revealing the small yellow shoots underneath. There are times the hay comes up easily, and times you really have to stab at it, prying it back from the baby plants without uprooting them. Then the hay gets tossed onto wagons, driven to another field, unloaded and spread.
Overthink that part and you get behind fast.
“If you think big picture,” says my coworker, Izzy, “The main idea is that the hay gets spread on the whole field.”
But back in the garlic rows, each new plant needs a dose of tenderness, if even just a little, to make sure there is indeed garlic to go in the CSAs in a few months.
I start to recognize my perfectionism surfacing in a way I will need to work through.
I want to retrieve every piece of hay from the garlic field and fit trays of lettuce plants on the wagon in satisfyingly straight lines. But I am learning when to tend to detail and when to let things go.
If I get intimately involved and invested in every task that presents itself, I will be a legitimately worthless farmhand.
Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita is entitled, “The Field and the Knower.” The chapter is a teaching lecture from Krishna to Arjuna (teacher to student), and in the opening verses Krishna says:
The body is called a field, Arjuna; he who
Knows it is called the Knower of the field.
This is the knowledge of the field in everyone,
Arjuna. Knowledge of the field and its
Knower is true knowledge.
Like all spiritual texts, the Gita is open to interpretation. To me, this entire chapter is about honing one’s ability to discern the field (our physical, material world, personal will, and human psyche) from the knower (Source, Self, Divinity, God, Consciousness, Love…however you like to name it).
It isn’t that the two are inherently separate; they’re intimately involved with one another. But the ability to discern one from the other dramatically impacts one’s perspective and how one experiences this human life.
Each time we’re able to return to the Knower, we’re able to disentangle ourselves from the minutiae of our material existence, which helps us appreciate this existence more.
When we remember the big picture, we can perceive the details for what they are, rather than allowing them to own us.
In yoga, remembering the Knower isn’t necessarily a mental practice. There are many avenues, including quiet contemplation, devotion, service, and self-discipline.
Each path has the same destination, however, and that is a deep, visceral awareness of the greater Source.
Once we know this Source, we can move through our world as people who are fed, rather than mangy scavengers, mistaking everything in front of us for something that must be pounced upon and consumed.
We gain a sense of all-encompassing security that then seeps its way into every crevasse of our experience, allowing us to taste it all and appreciate it for the fleeting thing it is.
We cultivate an intuitive sense for the things that require our involvement and those that don’t.
We discover that we can discern nails from gravel and garlic from hay.
Back in the greenhouse, I’m transplanting tiny pepper plants across the table from Kate. I study her technique and replicate it myself, and still, I feel the tender little stems snap under my fingers.
Kate watches me do 2 plants and sees the problem.
“I’m being pretty quick and rough with them, but there’s one part where you need to slow down.”
I watch her again and sure enough, there’s a 1-second portion of the task where the method shifts. When it’s time to guide the tiny roots and stem into the hole in the soil block, she slows down almost imperceivably, but enough that the stem doesn’t snap, angling her finger on the plant so there’s support balanced with force to get the whole thing secured tightly into its new home without breaking.
Then her pace quickens again as she pinches the soil around the base of the plant’s leaves and reaches for the next seedling without pause.
Working alongside Kate and the more experienced crew members, my discernment skills are sharpening every day, and I keep hearing the words in my mind: feeding people.
Feeding people is the Knowing on the farm, the guiding precipice at the top of every trail head.
It’s the clarifier that decides whether we stop or go, persist or abandon, buckle down or change gears.
It’s the humming in the background of every farm task, all season long, and I’m learning to anchor myself in that Knowing, and to allow it to pull me from the burden of my entanglement with every task that crosses my path.
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